NCAA restores scholarships for scandal-plagued UGA

DESTIN, Fla. - Damon Evans felt good going into Georgia's NCAA basketball appeal in March and even better coming out of that meeting.

But neither of those compared to how happy he was Friday, when the NCAA Appeals Committee went beyond even what the school had asked for and restored all three scholarships it took away in August of 2004.

"I felt like we should be getting some relief," he said after receiving word Friday morning at the Sandestin Hilton, where he is staying for the SEC's annual meetings. "I'm am very, very pleased with what we received."

The Bulldogs, who were punished for violations committed during Jim Harrick's tenure, originally were told to forfeit one scholarship in the 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. They asked to have one of those scholarships reinstated, but the NCAA gave all three back.

"This is exciting news for our basketball program as we work to recover from the events of 2003," basketball coach Dennis Felton said in a statement released by the school. "Once and for all, we can put this episode behind us and move forward in the building of our great program at Georgia."

"I talked to (Felton) this morning and to say he is happy about the ruling would be an understatement," said Athens attorney Ed Tolley, who led Georgia's investigation and appeal. "I think it vindicates and certifies the actions that were taken in this case by the university."

The Appeals Committee indicated in a news release that it was most swayed by the fact that Georgia released four players - Jordan Howell, Mohamed Abukar, Cassiono Matheus and Marcus Jackson - from their signed letters of intent after it began investigating possible violations in the spring of 2003.

"As a result, during the 2003-04 academic year, Georgia had only seven men's basketball student-athletes on scholarship," the NCAA report stated. "Thus, the university's decision in spring 2003 to release the prospects constituted a powerful self-imposed penalty that seriously affected its men's basketball program."

Georgia emphasized in its appeals hearing that letting those four players leave was the equivalent of giving up four scholarships because it was too late for those players to be replaced.

The NCAA "looked and said, 'Hey, they've already reduced scholarships,'" Evans said. "It would have been a double whammy for us. Obviously, they felt like we did the right thing."

Georgia officials immediately felt their appeals hearing in Chicago in March went well, several participants said.

"When we left Chicago, we were all quietly optimistic," Tolley said. "Nobody said anything, but we were hopeful."

Having a full 13 scholarships for the next three seasons should help the Bulldogs' rebuilding process greatly, Evans said. The Bulldogs finished 8-20 last season.